Is Mukasey Suggesting We Ignored Information Mohammed al-Qahtani Gave Us?

I’ve been having difficulty finding the time to get through the entire AEI torture extravaganza that took place yesterday (“Moderated” by John Yoo). But by the time I read this Greg Sargent piece, I had gotten through the point at about 3 minutes in where Michael Mukasey said,

Was there a memo in the file beforehand [before KSM uttered the name of courier Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti] that contained that name? Yes, but it was disregarded because it came from somebody insignificant and it was not regarded as significant.

Which in and of itself seems an admission (one reflected in the CIA IG Report) that CIA wasn’t accrediting intelligence from more minor figures adequately in their assessments of efficacy.

But there may be another problem with Mukasey’s statement. According to the NYT, KSM was reported to have been asked about al-Kuwaiti months after his waterboarding, in fall 2003.

And as you may have seen in reporting, al-Kuwaiti’s name comes up in a curious reference in Mohammed al-Qahtani’s Gitmo file. Note I’m showing the quotes themselves and the sources. And as you read this, remember that KU-10024 is KSM’s detainee number, so the email training described involves KSM, al-Kuwaiti, and al-Qahtani.

(S//NF) Detainee received computer training from al-Qaida member Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti in preparation for his mission to the US.

(S//NF) Detainee stated while at Abu Shem’s house in Karachi in July 2001, KU-10024 had al-Kuwaiti teach detainee to send email. KU-10024 informed detainee when someone went on a mission, he would need to know how to send messages and email was safer than talking on the phone. Al-Kuwaiti took detainee to a local internet cafe for his training.42

(S//NF) Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti was a senior al-Qaida facilitator and subordinate of KU-10024. Al-Kuwaiti worked in the al-Qaida media house operated by KU-10024 in Kandahar and served as a courier.43

(S//NF) Al-Qaida facilitator Hassan Ghul stated al-Kuwaiti, Hamza al-Ghamdi and Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi traveled with UBL.44 (Analyst Note: Al-Kuwaiti was seen in Tora Bora and it is possible al-Kuwaiti was one of the individuals detainee reported accompanying UBL in Tora Bora prior to UBL’s disappearance.)

(S//NF) Detainee stated he was not very skilled in the use of email and al-Kuwaiti told KU-10024 it would be difficult for the detainee to fully understand computers or how to use the internet for the purpose of emailing. (Analyst Note: Detainee attended a computer course in Saudi Arabia and received a certificate upon graduating. It is doubtful detainee would not be able to grasp the concept and procedures necessary for internet email, especially with Arabic websites that offered the service. Detainee stated KU-10024 provided him with a code to use when he reported success obtaining his visa.)45

42 IIR 6 034 1194 03

43 IIR 6 034 0226 05, TD-314/04398-05, TD-314/39130-02

44 TD-314/29012-04, TD-314/30205-04, Analyst Note: For additional information see TD-314/05730-05, IIR 6 034 0226 05, TD-314/45991-05, TD-314/63199-04, TD-314/04398-05, TD-314/56328-04, TD-314/55744-04, TD- 314/49162-04, TD-314/45296-04, TD-314/24351-04, TD-314/04950-04, TD-314/39130-02, IIR 6 034 0760 03

45 IIR 6 034 1194 03, 000063 SIR 30-MAY-2003, IIR 6 034 1205 03 [my emphasis]

First, note the argument they’re making here. To support the claim that Mohammed al-Qahtani must be an important al Qaeda figure, they use his own description of being trained on using email by Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, and then link that up with all the information the folks at Gitmo knew about al-Kuwaiti in 2008, thereby showing associatively that al-Qahtani was being trained by people–KSM and al-Kuwaiti–who had close ties to OBL.

Some of this information to support this argument was obviously collected after al-Qahtani’s earlier interrogations (and notably, after the most intense part of his torture, which lasted from November 23, 2002 to January 15, 2003) and from other detainees. The information about al-Kuwait’s role as a facilitator and courier (see footnote 43) is sourced to two intelligence reports from 2005, and one from 2002. Given that there’s nothing that says al-Qahtani explained this detail himself, that 2002 report might be the report from the detainee held by another country.

Then there’s the intelligence given by Hassan Ghul, dated 2004 (see footnote 44), stating that al-Kuwaiti traveled with OBL. One of the two 2005 reports also cited is one of the same reports named in footnote 45.

It’s the information that came from al-Qahtani himself–which takes the form, “detainee stated”–that’s more interesting. The three pieces of intelligence that appear to come from al-Qahtani (see footnotes 42 and 45) are all dated 2003. More interesting, one of them is named 000063 SIR 30-MAY-2003. The appearance of al-Qahtani’s detainee number, 063, seems confirmation this intelligence came from him. And the report is dated May 30, 2003, at least three months before KSM is reported to have talked about al-Kuwaiti, but more than five months after his torture ended.

Now, it’s possible that al-Qahtani didn’t use al-Kuwaiti’s nickname. But it at least appears that al-Qahtani was using it several months before KSM was. Mind you, he didn’t say anything about al-Kuwaiti traveling with OBL (which came two years later from Hassan Ghul) or being a courier (which may have come from that detainee in another country). Just that some guy with ties to KSM tried to teach him to use email.

Of course, this doesn’t clear up the torture debate at all (aside from the fact that torture is illegal and immoral and, in the case of al-Qahtani, has made it impossible to try him for his presumed role in 9/11). After all, it appears that, like KSM, al-Qahtani started to talk about al-Kuwaiti five months after being tortured. And note, it appears, though is not certain, that al-Qahtani did not give this information to the FBI or DOD before he was tortured, when they didn’t know who he was.

But it does appear to be fatal for Mukasey’s story. It’s one thing to claim that a detainee in some other country is so minor no one paid attention to the intelligence he offered. But you can’t make the claim al-Qahtani–the assumed 20th hijacker–was insignificant.

Which leads to the bigger question: why did it take CIA at least three months after al-Qahtani talked about being trained for 9/11 by al-Kuwaiti before they asked KSM about him?

  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Yet being a minor, insignificant source of routine lay-of-the-land intel was enough of a reason to get one incarcerated at Gitmo and to be made to linger there for years, as if one were a criminal. Mr. Mukasey’s inconsistencies suggest that he is speaking with a forked tongue.

    • rugger9 says:

      This is significant, they are one of our closest NATO allies, and for many years the prime target of the Soviet threat. For them to let this detail out into the public isn’t just a signal, it’s a two-by-four between the eyes telling us they do not trust us.

      This also needs to be looked at in connection with the banking data program where the EU objected to the vacuuming of details without warrants. The EU is getting restless with USA arrogance, and will find further ways to ensure their respective governments’ survival without getting the “American poodle” treatment. Indictments, anyone?

      • Jeff Kaye says:

        Don’t believe it. The Germans are poodles. They helped out on renditions and interviewed prisoners being tortured at Guantanamo, and denied the whole thing. Merkel’s comment is for public consumption only, imho.

  2. klynn says:

    Great post. Great questions.

    Consequently, I started the timer to see how long it will take for the, “It’s more complicated than you realize,” comments or the deflection attacks expressing that, “Your reasoning is weak…”

    When such comments show up, I read them as affirmation of,”Damn she is too good at ripping our attempts to spin totally apart.”

  3. rugger9 says:

    Let’s not forget Manning either in that calculation. Given the total fixation on Iraq from the get-go in W’s WH, the repeated attempts to tie Saddam Hussein [who was conveniently lynched before he could spill the beans at trial] to 9/11/01 and the fantasy about Niger uranium [for which a CIA asset working on nonproliferation was outed in time of war, a capital offense for anyone else], a detail like this was not going to get on the radar screen.

    Bush stopped looking for OBL within six months of the bullhorn moment by his own admission in a presser, followed by shutting down the OBL unit at the same time the compound was being built in Pakistan. Of course the administration missed this, it wasn’t important to them.

  4. WilliamOckham says:


    Have you figured out how to decode the IIR titles (i.e. what does IIR 6 034 0757 03 mean?)

    I’m assuming that the last two digit packet is the year. The first digit in the sequence is always 6 in al Qatani’s file, except for one IIR (4 201 2568 04) which appears 4 or 5 times.

    I believe IIR 6 is always followed by 034 in al Qatani’s file, but there are many 4 digit sequences that follow 034.

  5. 1der says:

    Why did it take 3 months? My cynical side sayz because they’re dipshits with huge know-it-all egos….as The Prickly CIC said to Garry Wills when suggested he not go into of Afghanistan: “I’m not a naïve optimist. I know of the difficulties. They’re all being considered and taken care of.”

    And the shit that doesn’t match his view of how things are is 86’ed. Along with asking Valerie Plame (as noted above) one could also ask Sibel Edmonds how things work in the New National Security State when 9-11 changed everything:

    Our Best & Brightest. Libya…Pahkesthan…Iran, spreading freedom and democracy, with a Peace Prize hanging around their neck, and Seal Team 6.

  6. emptywheel says:

    Okay, I’m pretty sure the SIR is a basic written report from one interrogation. So al-Q turned this over on May 30, 2002. Months before KSM did, apparently.

  7. scribe says:

    As one other commenter noted, the answer to the question with which you closed is that the whole idea of al-Kuwaiti ran contrary both to the narrative which was working in the IC and Bushco at the time, and to the objectives of the wars they were fighting and plotting.

    In 2003 or 2004 or 2005 a lead which would run straight to bin Laden, followed by a capture or confirmed kill, would have brought the same demands we heard a week or two ago for an end to the wars, and would have also run contrary not only to the development and normalization of torture as a way of life for the USG but also would have cost a lot of people (with the ear of the Bush/Cheney junta) the opportunity to make a hell of a lot of money off making wars.

    So, the people in charge “formed a picture” (or created a reality) that bin Laden was holed up in a cave and more or less irrelevant to the war on terra (remember “Osama bin Forgotten”?) and their subordinates took their cues from their bosses. Such is good for our career, I’ve heard. And information that ran contrary to that picture, at best, got recorded and filed away likely more as an exercise in completeness and ass-covering than anything else.

  8. joberly says:

    Thank you, Marcy, for your work on this story. I heard the AEI program on C-SPAN radio and nearly crashed the car when “Moderator John” was identified by the voice-over person as “Visiting Fellow John Yoo.”

    P.S.–proud to be a Benefactor of FDL and EW